Deb Osborne Retires After 30 Years of Service in the Department of Surgery

In 1976, 16-year-old Deb Osborne secured a position in admitting and patient accounting at Barnes Hospital at the recommendation of a school guidance counselor. Still in high school, she worked evenings and weekends founding what would be a decades-long career. Since then, she has not only grown in ways she couldn’t have possibly imagined, but has also become a cornerstone of the Department of Surgery.

Today, Osborne works as Patient Services Supervisor in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. She is a crucial point of contact for patients, physicians, faculty, and staff alike.

“Over the years, I have become the ‘mama bear’ of this program, caring for it and nurturing it with all my heart,” she says. “It has been an incredible journey filled with highs and lows, but through it all, our commitment to providing exceptional patient care has remained unwavering.”

Growing Into Expertise

After working in her first position at Barnes Hospital for 16 years, Osborne moved to the front desk in the Department of Pediatrics in 1992. Then in 1993, she was offered a position in the Department of Surgery as a float between various front desks. This new position, she recalls, taught her skills that helped her greatly in her life ever since. “It taught me a lot of flexibility and spontaneity. You never knew what was coming your way. It gave me a huge knowledge base and helped me grow as an individual,” Osborne says. “As a young employee, I witnessed dedication and compassion of the healthcare professionals who walked through our doors every day.”

Between 1994 and 2002, Osborne worked in the business office and billing department, later taking a precertification/predetermination position in the plastic and reconstructive surgery division. Here, Osborne got to work closely with then division chief Susan Mackinnon, MD, who was actively pioneering the field of nerve surgery. “Dr. Mackinnon has really helped me grow,” Osborne says. “She’s always been an advocate for women in surgery and in general in this business. She’s always been very kind to me.”

“Deb Osborne is that person who identifies problems, fixes them with kindness and compassion, and you never even know any of the above,” Mackinnon says. “She is the stealthy, empathic person who makes everyone’s life better, the individual whose value and worth you won’t understand until she retires.”

In 2003, Osborne secured the position she would hold until her retirement 20 years later. Here, she found her passions and expertise unfolding. “Once I got the opportunity to work with plastic and reconstructive surgery, I developed a deep admiration for the transformative power of plastic surgery,” she says. “I got to witness firsthand all the innovations going on in the department. The reconstructive aspect is so cool. I feel like I we help put people back together.”

As Patient Services Supervisor for the division, Osborne’s role has been essential in leading the team and ensuring exceptional care for patients. Her expertise and responsibilities span far and wide. She coordinates the behind-the-scenes workings of the entire division: handling the call center and medical secretaries, paying the division’s bills, conducting onboarding and disengagement for faculty and staff, and overseeing licensure renewals – just to name a few. Day to day, Osborne is always prepared. Be it advocating for patients, putting out little fires with tools from her carefully curated drawer of essentials, overseeing the very design of the office space her team now works in, or finding a way to answer any question presented to her, Osborne is always there to offer help and expertise. “I have seen it all—the triumphs, the challenges, and even the occasional missteps. More importantly, I know the incredible talent and dedication that lies within each member of this team.”

From the very start, Osborne has always found ways to get involved. Vascular Surgery Office Coordinator Theresa Belgeri recalls playing with Osborne on the hospital softball team in the 1980’s. Osborne, a shortstop known fondly by her teammates as “The Wizard of Oz,” helped “The World Famous Barnes Babes” secure the 1989 league championship.

For employees in the division, Osborne has become like family.

“Deb’s like everyone’s mom,” says Nurse Supervisor Trisha Blue, who has worked closely with Osborne over the past decade. “She’s the one who hired me. She taught me pretty much everything I know about how to treat our staff.”

Pushing Boundaries

Osborne has witnessed incredible change since her early days in the department. Not only did she watch the development of vast technological advances – having started on an electric typewriter using handwritten notes and paper charts in 1976 – but she also saw firsthand some of the amazing accomplishments happening in medicine all around her at Washington University. “From groundbreaking surgical techniques to innovative treatments, I have seen our field evolve, pushing boundaries and improving patient outcomes,” Osborne recalls. “Behind every successful operation, there is a dedicated team, and I am grateful to have been a part of this remarkable group.”

When Justin Sacks, MD, MBA, took up the mantle as new chief of the division and Sydney M. Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Chair in 2019 shortly before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Osborne was there to ensure his transition into leadership went smoothly. Sacks, who has spearheaded numerous innovations in the division, assured Osborne that keeping up with him would be a challenge, and Osborne took that challenge in stride. “Dr. Sacks has been a great mentor,” she says. “He pushes me. We gained a lot of respect for each other, and we have a good working relationship.” Her appreciation for her staff and the surgeons she supports has only grown during her time in the department. “They’re incredible human beings,” she says. “Dr. Mackinnon is a world renowned peripheral nerve surgeon. Dr. Sacks does head to toe reconstruction. The things our pediatric surgeons do for kids are incredible.” By supporting her faculty and staff and remaining a staunch advocate for her patients, Osborne successfully guided the division through the pandemic, leading only to more growth. “Once we came back, we hit the ground running again. Our research has grown, our clinical areas have grown. We’ve expanded tremendously ever since,” she says.

“Deb Osborne, the backbone of our Plastic Surgery division, represents the perfect blend of tenacity, loyalty, and hard-work,” says Sacks. “With three decades of tireless commitment, she did everything and more, from ensuring the bills were paid to the seamless organization of our division. Her confidence, trustworthiness, and an unflinching spirit held us together, and her unwavering attention to detail made certain all patients received the best of care. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside Deb for three years, a blink in the grand timeline of her service, yet her impact on me has been profound. She was not just a trusted colleague but a remarkable friend. As Deb embarks on a new journey, her legacy of commitment and hard-work continues to resonate within our walls. Deb Osborne will be missed deeply, but we know her impact will never be forgotten. We wish her the best in all of her future endeavors.”

In her retirement, Osborne doesn’t plan on slowing down. She has plans to spend time at her family’s lake house, pontooning, fishing, and renovating. Additionally, she plans to travel and get back into playing hockey – a passion she’s held nearly her entire life. She looks forward to spending time with her parents, her significant other, Ron, and the rest of her family – and taking some time for herself. “I just hope I don’t get bored!” she says.

A Legacy of Commitment

Osborne looks back on her time at Washington University with gratitude: “Gratitude for the opportunities I have been given, gratitude for the patients who have entrusted their care to us, and gratitude for the incredible colleagues I have had the pleasure of knowing.” During her time at the School of Medicine, she raised her daughter, continued her own education, and built a truly impressive career. She believes Washington University set her up for success and helped her found lifelong relationships and friendships, having allowed her the flexibility to find where she fit best and truly excel. “I always tell people WashU has been the best employer,” she says. “The decision for me to step down and leave has been bittersweet. I’m loyal to a fault, but I have things I want to do.”

It takes a truly passionate individual to fill all the roles Osborne has in the Department of Surgery. “I’ve got a lot of energy, and you need it!” she says. “I’m up for a challenge. I love to work hard. I’m a caregiver. I care about our patients, I care about customer service and making sure that we’re helping people. I love to network with people and help them grow and achieve whatever it is they want to achieve. I’m extremely dedicated – when I do something, I’m going to do it with my all.”

Over the past four decades, Osborne took every opportunity to find her niche, and became an essential part of her beloved team when she did. This has sparked a special belief in everyone’s potential, no matter where they start.

“Understanding people is huge. Find what people do well. Help them find that job where they excel,” she says. “Everybody’s got something to bring to the table.”

When asked for some parting words of wisdom, Osborne had timeless advice to offer: “Be kind. It doesn’t cost you a nickel to be kind to people.”


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